CBS, Turner unsure how coronavirus might affect NCAA tourney plans

CBS Sports and Turner Sports, which are scheduled to team up to televise the NCAA basketball tournament beginning next week, don’t know how coronavirus concerns might affect the event.

“As of now, everything is proceeding as scheduled,” Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News & Sports, which includes Turner Sports, said Tuesday. “We’re in close contact with (the NCAA), but this is their decision to make, to the degree any decision needs to be made.

“Notwithstanding the incredibly serious nature of what’s going on with the virus, I think the tournament can hopefully be an outlet of emotional and psychological relief for much of the country. And so I think we are all hopefully looking forward to that.”

» More AJC coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

As CBS and Turner held a media conference call to discuss their coverage plans for the NCAA tournament, including the Final Four in Atlanta, the Ivy League announced the cancellation of its postseason basketball tournaments because of coronavirus. Some other sports events in the U.S. and overseas have been canceled or played in venues without fans because of concerns about the virus.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement Tuesday: “NCAA member schools and conferences make their own decisions regarding regular-season and conference tournament play. As we have stated, we will make decisions on our events based on the best, most current public-health guidance available. Neither the NCAA COVID-19 advisory panel, made up of leading public health and infectious disease experts in America, nor the CDC or local health officials have advised against holding sporting events. In the event circumstances change, we will make decisions accordingly.”

On the CBS/Turner conference call, play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz, who is scheduled to call the Final Four games April 4-6 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on TBS, expressed hope that the tournament can provide a respite for a worried nation.

“We had a webinar yesterday, and the common theme throughout was that this comes at a time when the country really needs more than ever a chance to have something that brings some joy to their lives and more of an escapism, if you will,” Nantz said.

“Like everyone else, we have no idea where this is going over the next three or four weeks, and we’ll adapt to whatever the NCAA decides to do with the tournament,” Nantz said. “There’s a ton of hypotheticals at the moment.”

He acknowledged broadcasting games without fans in attendance would be a challenging experience.

“I can only try to imagine what it would be like as a broadcaster,” Nantz said. “(If) you’ve got an empty building, you’re going to hear a lot of squeaking sneakers, you’re going to hear the coaches calling out plays and defenses. ... Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”

Said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus: “Right now, all plans are to go forward.”

Editor’s note: Concerns about the coronavirus have resulted in the cancellation of many events and large gatherings. The AJC will monitor these announcements and keep you informed about any postponements, rescheduling and cancellations, but it’s best to check with venues or event organizers before making plans to attend.